Getting dinner on the table every night of the week can sound like a daunting task – especially with two little ones. But I genuinely enjoy cooking so it’s important for me to incorporate it into my work week. Meal planning is a great way to eat healthy meals and keep costs low.
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After I had kids, meal planning became essential to getting dinner on table during the week. Without a game plan, I was finding that I’d spend hours grocery shopping with no clear meals defined. This would lead to over-spending and running to the store multiple times during the week to get last minute necessities for whatever dinner I came up with that day.
However now that things are planned, I have a clearly defined grocery list that I can stick to – reducing time spent shopping as well as preventing impulse buys in the grocery store.
Choose a day to plan and weekly meal goal
Pick a day that works for you and stick to it. For me, it’s easy to commit to grocery shopping on Sundays. We rarely have things to do Sunday afternoon aside from getting ready for the work week.
So, on Sundays, I pick 3 recipes for the week – my goal is to make dinner at least three nights. Planning a few meals a week that you DEFINITELY will cook is better than trying to plan a meal for each night of the week and not ending up cooking it. Three meals gives a little flexibility in case other things come up, like a late night at work or a night to order out or go out. There’s also room for one night of leftovers or just an easy freezer/fridge meal.
I usually also shoot for one chicken, one beef, and one salad with protein (just so we’re not eating chicken for a week straight).
Find recipes that work for you
Need something in less than 30 minutes? On a diet? Make sure your recipes are something you want to actually cook and eat – this will help stay motivated to cook and stick to your plan.
Food52 is a great website with tons of recipe ideas! I was just browsing through there recently and I love that they have categories like ‘one pot wonders‘ and ‘five ingredients or less.’I tend to gravitate towards simple recipes with basic flavors, like a meat with roasted vegetables… or a pasta dish with only a few steps. Some of my other favorite recipe websites include: Skinny Taste, The Healthful Ideas, and Gimme Some Oven.
I also always think of an alternative for my toddler – so that I don’t need to make him something completely separate. For example, if I’m making a spicy beef stir-fry, I’ll set aside some of the plain meat and veggies so that he can share. Or for something like pasta dishes with heavy sauces, I’ll keep some plain pasta and use jarred sauce that he’s more familiar with.
Wherever you like to find recipes, gather them in one spot. My favorite family-friendly recipes are on my Pinterest board here:
Keep your pantry stocked
It’s important to have some basic pantry staples on hand in order to throw together twists on leftovers and to minimize what you’re buying each week. Buying staples in bulk helps to reduce your family grocery bill each month too. You can download my FREE PDF pantry essentials cheat sheet here!
Compile your shopping list
Plantoeat.com has been a huge help in not only meal planning but grocery shopping planning as well. I add whatever recipes I’ve found for the week (from the web or Pinterest) to my plan-to-eat library and then add three to my calendar for the week.
Once you’ve chosen your recipes, plan to eat compiles your grocery list based off of what you’ve scheduled for the week on to a one-page checklist perfect for printing and taking to the store. I grocery shop online (more on that below) – so using PTE makes it easy to tab between the grocery store page and my list.
Like I said above, I absolutely LOVE online grocery shopping. My local Shoprite allows me to grocery shop online (fresh, pantry, and frozen) for an additional $5.95 on my bill. To me, this is completely worth it (I would easily spend more than $6 on impulse buys at the grocery store in real life!).
The added bonus of online shopping is that you really don’t deviate or have many impulse buys since you’re working off of a list and aren’t wandering aisles. My store charges a service fee of $5.95 but it’s completely worth it in my book.
If your local grocery store doesn’t have online shopping available, consider Amazon Fresh. It’s rolling out in more areas and brings fresh groceries right to your door. Otherwise, for shopping in-person, stick to your list to avoid over spending. To save even more each week, use a couponing website like Living Rich with Coupons for deals and coupons specific to your local grocery store.
That’s it! Some weeks are busier than others, so I don’t always stick to this plan – but for the most part it’s been working for us and helps us eat at home more without spending a ton of extra money. If I’m in a pinch, I’ll subscribe to Blue Apron or Hello Fresh for a week to take a break (their weekly service is a little more than planning and buying on your own, but still saves a great deal of time!).